Recently, in an open letter, Vail Resorts’ CEO Rob Katz outlined what pass holders could expect in terms of Covid-19 safety precautions for this upcoming season. Of the policies outlined, Katz stated that reservations would be required for all guests before arriving at the resort. According to Katz, he noted that “everyone who wants to get on resort chairlifts will be able to” for the “vast” majority of days this season.
That being said, there is growing concern among backcountry ambassadors who believe that this reservation system may steer skiers and riders away from resorts and instead, into the backcountry.
Backcountry recreation is on the rise — currently, backcountry gear sales are the fastest-growing sector in the ski industry. Furthermore, there was a significant spike in backcountry gear sales last spring after most ski resorts closed due to the pandemic. As such, the evidence strongly suggests that this season, we may see more backcountry users than ever before.
Much concern regarding the influx of users ultimately revolves around the idea that many people will venture into the backcountry without proper avalanche equipment, training, and knowledge. This lack of education could result in a higher number of injuries and avalanches.
The bottom line is that backcountry recreation is dangerous. There is no ski patrol that performs avalanche mitigation every morning, nor are they available to aid someone in the event of an injury. Furthermore, there are no boundary lines to prevent a skier from getting lost. As such, it is crucial for backcountry users to equip themselves with comprehensive education and training before heading into the mountains. With the proper knowledge, recreationists can make good educated decisions and mitigate risk.
Unfortunately, many avalanche courses are expensive, which in turn can disincentivize skiers and riders from gaining the education necessary to make smart choices in the mountains.
In an effort to prepare for the potential increase of backcountry users this season, organizations like the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) are doing their best to make educational resources more accessible. For example, they are providing a free online series called “Know Before You Go“. This series will feature recorded lectures, e-learning, and live stream events. CAIC will also be collaborating with the Utah Avalanche Center in an effort to increase exposure for the program.
This upcoming ski season will undoubtedly be different from any other season that has preceded it. The growth of new backcountry users will pose novel and interesting challenges in which the community will have to adapt. If you are a beginner, for the sake of your safety and the safety of others, please spend the time to educate yourself on safe backcountry travel, ethics, and etiquette. For those who are experienced, serve as a good role model to newcomers, and don’t hesitate to share your knowledge- it might just save someone’s life. At the end of the day, backcountry skiing and riding is one of the most fulfilling ways to spend time in the mountains- let’s make sure that we can all continue to do so safely.
Know Before You Go!